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The making of center for unity

By Umar Shuaib

Among those that contributed to the debate for the creation of a new capital for Nigeria in the late 60s to the early 70s, was Late U G Bena, a renowned Architect and Town Planner. In a Colloquium by the Nigerian Students Union in America, titled “Reassessing Nigeria’s National Capital”, he described the capital city of any country to represent the highest embodiment of all pervasive processes of cultural contact. “It also represents an arena for frontal collision between dissimilar heritages and value systems; a melting pot of culture, a dominant focus of cultural transmission and dissemination as well as a hot bed of political fermentation” (Bena 1974).

The commencement of the implementation of the Abuja project was not without initial hiccups. There were the sceptics, who never believed that the project was implementable. But, because of the sincerity of the purpose, adequate and aggressive planning, and the vigour exhibited by the Federal Government on the implementation, in no time the initial apathy became dissipated, climaxing to the City we now have. While striving hard to make more improvement, we must also appreciate what we have, rather than overblowing our inadequacies, which no human endeavour is immune from, most especially with our level of technology.

We need to refresh our memories on the sequence of events while implementing the project. In February 1976 the Law establishing the New Federal Capital at Abuja and the creation of the Federal Capital Development Authority (FCDA) was promulgated. Between May and July 1976 a delegation of the FCDA visited a number of Capital Cities around the world for studies, namely; Canberra, Chandigarh, New Delhi, Los Angeles, Brasilia and Washington. In 1976 a total of 18 firms and planning consultants were shortlisted from all over the world to submit proposal for preparation of the Master Plan. In January 1977 International Planning Associates (IPA) was approved by the Federal Government and within 18 months the Plan was produced and submitted in February 1979.

In December 1991, the Seat of Government was transferred to Abuja. Achieving such milestone on such project within 15 years only from conception was remarkable and unprecedented. A feat yet to be achieved by some our sister African countries till date.

One of the most consistent annual events in Abuja is undoubtedly the African International Housing Show (AIHS), which takes place with remarkable improvements every year for the past 14 years it debuted. None of the invited guests and exhibitors ever condemned what they encountered in the City from the beginning to the end of their stay, rather they always depart with beautiful impressions, and never missed subsequent occasions once stated.

In 2014, the Housing Show had Professor Pedro Ortiz as the Guest Speaker who delivered the Keynote address. He was a former Mayor of Madrid and a Senior Consultant on Metropolitan Management and Planning for International Governmental Organizations, such as the UN-Habitat, European Union, the World Bank and others, his first time in Abuja was on that visit in 2014. As he was conveyed from the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport to the City, and subsequently when he toured the City including a courtesy visit to the Emir of Suleja, through the Airport and Outer Northern Expressways, he confessed that he had never expected to witness such a world class and quality infrastructure.
Almost all Government functionaries, as Ministers, Federal Legislators, heads or senior personnel of Federal Agencies, remain in the City as permanent residents even after their tenures and never return to their Local Governments or States. To the State Governors, this is the City that many of them could sometimes spend longer times running their States from, instead of their State capitals. Subsequently, they acquire permanent residences in Abuja after their tenures, for those who do not have prior to acquiring their political powers.

One of the four cardinal aspirations of the New Federal Capital, as enunciated in the Master Plan which was achieved to great extent, was to have “a city that would be secured, ethnically neutral, centrally accessible, comfortable and healthful, and possesses adequate natural resources to provide a promising base for urban development” (IPA 1979). Thus, over the years, the City experiences continuous turnovers of new residents.

Irrespective of tribe or ethnic background, Nigerians from the North, South, East and West, whose localities could be embroiled in militancy, banditry, insurgency or any other civil unrest, would always have sanctuary in their Nation’s Capital located at the center of the country, free from all molestations, like no any other place before. The wisdom of Justice Akinola Aguda Panel for this location at the geographical center with equal distance from all corners of the country can thus be further appreciated.



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